WordPress Plugins: A Culinary Crossover
Assembling the perfect ingredients for homemade salsa is much like curating content for a gorgeous website. Besides compelling content, you need handy tools to help the job reach a standard that your brand (and salsa) deserves. WordPress plugins are the food processors of the CMS world.
When you want to make homemade salsa you can do one of two things:
- You can chop the ingredients by hand and add canned pureed tomatoes to make it more saucy.
- You can use a food processor and fresh tomatoes to make a more complex salsa.
Ok, I’m no expert at making homemade salsa, but I’d totally go for number two. Less work for you but you still get a dynamic and enticing finished product. You may be asking yourself, “What does homemade salsa have to do with WordPress plugins?” Why chop onions by hand with teary eyes when in seconds you can have the same result by using a tool that does all the work for you?
That’s what a plugin does. WordPress plugins save you time and make your website dynamic with added functionality. As a WordPress website manager, keeping plugins updated is a top priority. It is important to maintain updates in a timely manner to keep your site secure.
Plugins Are Your Friends
In this article, I will walk you through the best practices of updating WordPress plugins. Even if you have never used WordPress before, after reading this post (and watching the video below) you will be able to:
- Navigate to the WP Plugin dashboard
- Update plugins individually
- Check the frontend of the site for changes
Before running any updates, however, it is important that you schedule a complete backup of your site. This is important because if anything goes wrong while completing updates you will have a copy of your website to use as a restore point. However, backups are not just for emergencies. You should have a regular schedule for creating and storing new backups.
There are several different ways to create a backup. The easiest way is to find a plugin that allows you to setup up an automated schedule. Two plugins that I am familiar with are Updraft Plus and Duplicator (both free). Updraft Plus allows you to create backups and store them externally via Google Drive or other web applications, as well as download copies to your computer. Duplicator creates a duplicate of your WordPress files and content as well as database. Updraft Plus is fairly easy to setup and I recommend this plugin for beginners. For the more experienced, especially with cPanel, the Duplicator plugin may be the direction you take.
The fantastic thing about WordPress is that you do not have to know how to code to use it to build a website. Additionally, there is a large library of free plugins here. When looking for plugins always select plugins that are updated regularly, have a good amount of positive reviews, and confirm that they are compatible with your version of WordPress. Sometimes the newest version of WordPress is released and your favorite plugin may not have caught up yet. Don’t panic. Keep an eye on it, it will catch up. If not, do some research and find a suitable replacement. Popular plugins that have a lot of installs tend to keep up with the trends (WP updates).
The Salsa Analogy
Going back to my salsa analogy, plugins allow you to add functionality like basic contact forms to your site without using code. Sure, if you have the time and like to experiment, you could learn how to build a form in HTML (GO FOR IT)! However, to some this process can feel a lot like chopping onions. Why not use a tool that does that work for you?!? Plugins can be fantastic additions to your site if you know which ones to download (future blog), how to manage updates (this blog), and understand how to handle a dire situation like the WORDPRESS WHITE SCREEN OF DOOM (intro here + detailed future blog).
Not to scare you, but shit can happen when you build any website; things that you don’t anticipate. When using and managing plugins in WordPress, I recommend that you be patient. Also, stay clear of editing WordPress files. These are default files that, unless you are a WordPress developer, you should just leave alone. I’m not questioning your abilities or potential. I’m just sayin’, better safe than sorry.
Once you have a full backup completed, you are ready to start running updates. When you begin the update process, WordPress goes into “Maintenance Mode”. This is where patience is a virtue. Once you click on “update now”, touch nothing else. Do not refresh the page! If you do, you will most likely meet the dreaded “white screen of doom”. I did this once, thankfully, I knew how to restore using Duplicator!
I won’t go too deep into it now, but this is exactly why you want to have a backup of your site. Don’t panic. You can restore your site (before updates) using the backup. And remember, some plugins are like smooth salsa (Formidable Forms). They are easy to navigate and configure, even for beginners. Others are more complex and textured like chunky salsa (WooCommerce). But they all update in the same way.
Timely Updates, But Not Too Timely
Check the WordPress dashboard at least once a week for needed updates. This is important to keep your site secure. After completing updates, always visit the frontend of your website to confirm that the updates did not cause conflicts or alter any styling. If everything looks good, then your updates succeeded. If, however, you see issues, the best thing would be to restore your site using your fresh backup.
Once your site is restored, you can either update plugins individually to see which one caused the issue or your can hit pause and wait a bit before proceeding. Sometimes, it’s good to be not so timely with updates. This gives the developers of the plugins time to fix bugs in the code. Often, bugs are not picked up until a public release of an update. Check back in a week and try again!
What About Leftovers
Congratulations! You did it. And you will keep on doing it because this is an ongoing task. Like, forever; as long as you have your website you will continue to update your plugins. Unless you decide to outsource, which is fine. Now you will understand more about the process when your developer starts talking plugins. Totally a HOORAY moment!!
Now, go set a weekly reminder for managing updates on your website. And, add your email to my list for freebies and tips on customizing WordPress. Don’t forget to watch the video below!
In the video, I walk you through the steps of updating plugins. Here are the steps that I follow:
- Navigate to Plugins in the left side WordPress dashboard.
- Review the list of plugins and notate which plugins need updates.
- Click the “update now” text in blue (it will be in a highlighted area under the plugin name and description).
- Wait patiently while the plugin is updated.
- Go to the frontend of the website.
- Refresh if needed to QA site for errors and/or styling issues.
Thanks for reading & watching! Next time…”Ok, I installed a Page Builder. Now what?”
P.S. What’s the perfect reward for a job well done? Tacos (with homemade salsa)! ?
✷ Reb | The Maker ✷
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